Thursday, January 22, 2009

Film: Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film

(Gary J. & Susan Svehla, Midnight Marquee Press, 1996)
One of those film books which are not only simple in concept and fun to read, but entertaining and informative as well (providing "bad films" are your thing). Not to say that one will agree with what the various writers included say, however, for the very concept of a "guilty pleasure" lends itself to many a beer-fuelled argument. The first of two volumesthe second entitled, appropriately enough, Son of Guilty Pleasuresthis book is a collection of twelve essays from twelve different writers of film criticism (all regular Midnight Marquee contributors), each article a personal justification of some filmic fiasco of days gone by. For the most part, the various critics are surprisingly on target, focusing on obscurities or embarrassments of the past that truly ascend beyond their feeble roots or questionable pedigrees to achieve an individuality that deserves more appreciation than they get in this age of conformity. Once upon a time – say, about the time this book was initially published – most of the films mentioned herein could only be viewed by a select and lucky (?) few – especially following the demise of the age of the afternoon or midnight Creature Features programs – but nowadays some films such as Maniac (1934/trailer) can even be downloaded for free on the Internet (check out The Internet Archive, for example), while others can be found on DVD at your local 99 Cent stores. Some, like Rodan (1956) and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970/trailer), can still be taped on local stations late at night or lent from the local library, but they also tend to be the films everyone has seen once too often anyway. (Actually, Rodan seems much less a "Guilty Pleasure" than Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971/trailer), the latter complete with a scene of Godzilla in a deep pit being covered with a never-ending load of Smog Monster shit.) The most arguable articles in Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film are about the most recent films, the 1976 version of King Kong and David Lynch’s Dune. Critics asideI don’t listen to them even as I write as onethe flaw with King Kong is simply that it is boring and looks cheap, while Dune is less an embarrassment than it is a film that needs to be viewed in a context completely separate from its literary roots to be seen as a failed but exciting and daring movie event. In the end, Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film is a book that defies criticism due to its very subject. Much like the act of watching bad films, either one likes to read about bad films or one doesn’t. Insofar as that all the writers know their subjects, can indeed write, and believe in their stance, the given selection is a personal one—as a "Guilty Pleasure" tends to be. Read it or don’t, but if you do, you’ll probably want to hunt more than one title down.
Images (trawled from the web):
1. The book cover.
2. Maniac lobby card.
3. German poster for
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, showing a babe that could rule me any day.
4. Rodan poster.

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